Shadow of brutality still haunting Machinga

The missing and eventual death of Mc Donald Masambuka, a young man with albinism, remains a gloomy and troubling thought to people in Machinga, a district in the eastern part of Malawi.

Masambuka arranging bricks for the new house

Pilo: My heart bleeds and I weep time and again

Person with albinism living in fear

In May this year, the 22-year-old man went missing from his home in Makawa in Traditional Authority (T/A) Mkowola in Machinga. His body was found several weeks later in a shallow grave at Chikweu with both legs cut off, a development that plunged the Masambuka family into deep shock.

The father, White Masambuka, decided to bury their son near the house for fear of exhumation of the body by misguided souls collecting bones of people with albinism for rituals.

“We dug the grave behind our house, adjacent to my bedroom. Anyone to descend on the grave will have to kill me first,” said Masambuka with tears slowly filling his eyes.

Mc Donald’s grave is a constant reminder to relatives and the surrounding community on the terror and brutality unleashed on people with albinism.

Since 2014, the country has experienced the unprecedented wave of killings and abductions of people with albinism. Several cases have been reported in Dedza, Nsanje, Thyolo and Machinga.

Available figures show that 148 cases have been reported with 22 people killed. Although the spate of killings and abductions seems to have abated in some areas, the smell of brutality still hang in the air in Machinga.

In Masharubu, T/A Kawinga in Machinga, Margaret Pilo, in her 30’s, is mother still in pain. Her five-year-old son, Ibra, was whisked away in the night from her house in 2015 and never returned.

“I weep every day and I am not sure what happened to him,” Pilo said while recounting events of that sad night.

Pilo’s husband, who is Ibra’s step father, was the only suspect on account that he refused to be woken up when his wife alerted him on a possible intrusion outside the house.

“After my husband refused to wake up, I gathered courage and went out of the house. It was around 11 pm and I saw nothing.

“I came back in the house, went to Ibra’s room and found that he was missing on his sleeping mat,” Pilo said.

Her husband was released from prison after nine months on suspicion of colluding with Ibra’s abductors.

With the perpetrators still in the wind, the safety of 158 people living with albinism in Machinga and the rest of the country is not guaranteed.

Out of 15 deaths registered in the eastern region, eight have been from Machinga, the highest so far in one district, according to statistics from the Association of People with Albinism.

Why Machinga?

Paramount Chief Kawinga in the district said the misguided belief that body parts of people with albinism make one rich is the cause of the barbaric acts.

“Some people are into this pursuit to make fortunes out of innocent people. This is the reason we are killing each other here. But this belief is unfounded,” Kawinga said.

Lecturer in Genetics at Chancellor College in Zomba Dr. Dalitso Kafumbata deplored African beliefs that hinge on consulting witchdoctors on how one can amass wealth.

“Unfortunately, we don’t believe that one can get rich through hard work. We bring magic and witch craft in everything. This is what has fueled the spate of killings of people with albinism,” Kafumbata said.

The academician, who has done several studies on beliefs and albinism, argued that there is no connection between the two in making people rich.

While one may assume that illiteracy could be at the centre of fanning out these beliefs, the suspects netted by police so far in most cases seem to be individuals of their pedigree above literacy.

Some months ago, national coordinator for APAM Boniface Massa blamed some duty bearers especially in Machinga for being behind the wave of attacks and killings on people with albinism.

“Most suspects arrested are not ordinary people. They are influential people in society,” Massa said.

District Commissioner for Machinga Bester Mandere reiterated that people hunting for bones of people with albinism are delusional because there is no market for those bones.

“Suspects are conned to kill and are arrested for being found with bones after a month, meaning that they have nowhere else to sell the bones,” Mandere observed.

 

Poor housing

Reports indicate that poor housing is compromising the security of people with albinism. Most of them sleep in houses that make them vulnerable to these brutal acts.

Until his death, Mc Donald Masambuka was sleeping in a grass-thatched hut with his father.

Five-year-old Ibra Pilo disappeared from a grass-thatched mud house that had a door made of elephant grass.

Paramount Chief Kawinga has called on government and all other stakeholders to look into the matter to ensure that the security of people with albinism is guaranteed.

Recently, government handed over houses to Alfred and Yohane Misoya, two brothers with albinism in Chikwawa.

President Arthur Peter Mutharika ordered construction of the houses for the two under the Malata and Cement Subsidy Grant Component in the aftermath of brutal ritual attacks in March, 2017 when unknown thugs broke into their hut.

Government says it will do all it can to ensure that the rights of people with albinism are protected.

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